By Ivan Nechepurenko Pretending to be a senior official, Sergei Davydov induced judges to fix cases, then revealed the conversations. Then the system struck back.…
Pretending to be a senior official, Sergei Davydov induced judges to fix cases, then revealed the conversations. Then the system struck back.
PERM, Russia — He always called shortly before the final court hearing, saying that the matter was urgent and had to be resolved by phone.
“Do not punish Mr. Gorodilov, OK?” Sergei V. Davydov, a small-time businessman, told one judge, pretending to be a senior justice official.
Adopting the peremptory tone often used by high-ranking Russians to speak to underlings, Mr. Davydov was seeking leniency for a friend Sergei V. Gorodilov, accused of driving under the influence.
“Of course, I will do everything,” the judge handling the case said obsequiously. “I understood everything.” And with that, Mr. Davydov’s request was granted, and his friend got off without punishment.
In his first state of the nation address after becoming Russia’s leader in 2000, President Vladimir V. Putin promised to impose“the dictatorship of the law.” But 20 years later, Mr. Davydov says, the country resembles a dictatorship of graft, run by something that in time has acquired a name of its own: telephone justice. The lack of independent courts is universally cited by experts as one of the main predicaments for Russia’s economic and social development.
“My goal was to help myself and others and to show the whole country how judges make their rulings not according to the law, but in line with a telephone call,” Mr. Davydov said through his lawyer from prison, where he is serving a sentence of more than nine years on charges he calls bogus.
Over the years, Mr. Davydov, 52, called 18 judges in Russia’s Perm region, an ancient land of salt mines and metal factories on the footsteps of the Ural Mountains 750 miles east of Moscow. He asked the supposedly independent judges to make decisions in line with his instructions instead of the law.
Then Mr. Davydov would upload the conversations online, causing an uproar. In one recording, Mr. Davydov asked a federal judge to lower a prison sentence by seven years; his request was granted, and the judge apologized later that he could not do more.
The system Mr. Davydov exposed couldn’t tolerate this type of activism for too long. A former paratrooper, he appeared at a court hearing in March, looking haggard and walking with a stick after spending weeks in a solitary cell and being beaten by prison guards.